Given the various comments (and reaction) this piece has generated when it was originally published, I wanted to reiterate that the point of this article isnâ€™t to criticise travel bloggers or SEOs.
If you own a blog, it is your choice to charge for links if you want. If youâ€™re an SEO, you can buy links if you want.
The type of outreach conducted in this experiment is not what Iâ€™d normally do and is not what Iâ€™d recommend other SEOs do, but it was necessary in this case. I accept it may have altered the outcome of the experiment slightly but not significantly.
So, here goes…
One of the common problems I come across when doing outreach is bloggers replying but asking to be paid for the link. It seems to be a common problem for others too judging by the number of times that other SEOs have asked me how to overcome this problem.
The fact is, it is a hard problem to overcome, only once can I recall turning a paid link into a free one from my own experience. To be honest, most of the time Iâ€™ll just make a note of the domain selling links and move on.
I decided to run an experiment and get some hard numbers on this. This is by no means definitive or a full representation of the travel industry, Iâ€™m one person doing this test, hence the relatively low numbers, but since very few people publish this kind of stuff, I still wanted to share.
The numbers are probably not as bad as I expected, but are things only going to get worse?
Also let me say this (I wish I didnâ€™t have to make it this clear): I am NOT outing anyone here. I am not publishing the list of who I contacted, who replied and who were prepared to sell links.
If you happen to work in this industry and are in the business of buying / selling links, that is your choice. I very much doubt this post will change anything for you.
Bottom line outcomes:
- Of 122 emails sent, I got 53 replies
- Of those 53 replies 26 would only link to me if I paid for it
- Of the 53 replies, 10 immediately said yes to a guest post
- The remainder, 17 wanted more information, neither saying yes or asking for money
- 9 people quoted prices in their reply, the average cost of a link was $285
The experiment itself:
- To keep things fair, the same email was sent to each website but was personalised to that website in several ways
- I was offering a guest post but didnâ€™t mention which company I was representing
- I didnâ€™t mention that I wanted a link in return
- I didnâ€™t offer money
- I only contacted travel websites
- I used a persona, not my own name for obvious reasons
A few thoughts occurred when I looked at these numbers:
- Have SEOs brought this upon ourselves?
- What would Google’s opinion be on this? Whatâ€™s the advice for SEOs?
- Is the problem only going to get worse?
- Is this normal and the same across other industries?
Iâ€™m not drawing conclusions based on this rather small experiment, but here are some of my own thoughts.
Is this our fault?
Judging by the wording used in the replies (see the section on advertising below) it is clear than these bloggers are quite savvy when it comes to SEO and they know the value of a link. Is this a result of constant outreach emails from SEOs?
Have we sent so many that they have realised that they can make money from this? To be honest, I donâ€™t blame them! Blogs can be a nice source of income and as they are a hobby for most people, who wouldnâ€™t want an extra few dollars a month?
Itâ€™s supply and demand. These bloggers have seen a demand for something and decided to charge for what they have.
It is tempting
I can see why SEOs would say yes when offered the chance of an easy link, it can sometimes be hard to just get a reply from a blogger so when they do reply, it can be tempting to just accept it and pay up.
It is still clearly against Google guidelines and as mentioned previously, I just make a note of these and move on if Iâ€™m outreaching for a client, many wouldnâ€™t though.
They didnâ€™t want to sell me advertising
Advertising online has always been normal, you pay for exposure on another website and get traffic to your own. But it was clear from the replies I got that I was not being quoted advertising rates, many mentioned “links” “SEO” “backlinks” “anchor text” which is not what Iâ€™d expect if the blogger was just trying to sell me a banner ad.
They knew what I wanted and the value of it.
How hard is it for Google to do this?
Iâ€™m one person doing this test and I can easily repeat it, scale and gather data for 1000s of travel blogs. What could Google do?
I know that Google have always verged on the side of caution and have always wanted to build scalable, algorithmic solutions to web spam and paid links rather than manual work.
But this has changed in the last year, Google are getting aggressive and have shown they will take manual action when needed (or pushed).
I wonder what would happen to the link graph if Google did this for say 100,000 blogs and turned off the PageRank for all websites that sold links.
How much is a link worth?
The average quoted price was $285. The highest quoted price was $700!
Is this worth it? I can certainly think of better ways to spend $700 on a clientâ€™s SEO campaign that would probably get them more links without buying them.
Where do we go from here?
It is a tough problem to solve. It feels like there should be some middle ground somewhere between travel bloggers and SEOs who do not want to break Google guidelines on buying links.
To me, it seems the best way to do this is for SEOs to forget about links for a moment and focus on building relationships with bloggers.
A relationship means that there is some kind of benefit to the blogger but it may not even be content, after all the blogger can write good content themselves!
This means putting short term wins to one side and actually focusing on helping bloggers with something they actually want help with – not giving them content they don’t want.
SEOs and bloggers in general also need to start exercising better quality control on their guest content.
SEOs are often accused of publishing low quality, outsourced content and some do. But if the editorial policies and standards of bloggers was a lot higher, then it would force SEOs to focus on quality and put a lot more effort into the content they send to bloggers – thus helping everyone.
NB2: Link and dollar image via Shutterstock.